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The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time

Updated October 27, 2020 420.2k votes 43.3k voters 447.8k views195 items

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A list of the best rap lyricists of all time. Since hip hop and rap music became popular at the beginning of the 1980s, many fans of the genre have focused on the message described in each rapper's lyrics. A form of street poetry, rap lyrics focus on many different things, dependent on who is speaking of the harsh realities of the streets. Others, contrarily, rap about the glamorous life and what it's like to live large. Sometimes, lyrical rappers fluctuate between both of these extremes.

The best lyrical rappers are universally respected by both their peers and fans for the honesty and the way they use their words in a creative fashion. Some of the most respected wordsmiths came from the golden age of hip hop. Here, you had groups like Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, N.W.A. and Black Star and individual rappers like KRS-One and Nas who are universally known as the best lyricists of all time. On the other side of the coin, you have two of the greatest rappers of all time, Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., who connected with millions of hip hop fans due to their strong lyrics that touch on the harsh realities of urban culture. A rapper who has switched from rapping about his rough upbringing to glitz and glamour is Jay Z. His debut album was universally praised for talking about life in Brooklyn during his youth, and his recent album was panned for praising brands like Tom Ford and excess.

This list includes many of greatest rappers of all time, who are also among the genre's most popular as well. The one thing these rappers have in common is their lyrics are considered some of the best in the history of hip hop music. These top lyricists are the greatest of all time, and it's up to you to decide who is the best lyricist in rap music. Cast your votes below.

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  • 1
    Nas is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    14,169
    5,526

    Nas

    Illmatic, Life Is Good

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known as Nas, is an American rapper, songwriter, record... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 2
    Tupac Shakur is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    13,919
    5,375

    Tupac Shakur

    All Eyez on Me, Me Against the World

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Political hip hop, Gangsta rap, West Coast hip hop

    Tupac Amaru Shakur ( TOO-pahk shə-KOOR; born Lesane Parish Crooks, June 16, 1971 – September... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 3
    Rakim is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    7,940
    3,057

    Rakim

    The 18th Letter, The Archive: Live

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    William Michael Griffin Jr. (born January 28, 1968), better known by his stage name Rakim, is... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button
  • 4
    Eminem is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    19,259
    7,553

    Eminem

    The Marshall Mathers LP, The Slim Shady LP

    Genres (Music)Hip hop

    Marshall Bruce Mathers III (born October 17, 1972), known professionally as Eminem (; often... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 5
    Wu-Tang Clan is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    5,272
    1,155

    Wu-Tang Clan

    Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Forever

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap, Mafioso rap

    Wu-Tang Clan is an American hip hop group formed in the New York City borough of Staten Island... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 6
    Kendrick Lamar is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    12,006
    4,724

    Kendrick Lamar

    good kid, m.A.A.d city

    Genres (Music)Hip hop

    Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper, songwriter, and record... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 7
    André 3000 is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    7,600
    2,927

    André 3000

    Royal Flush, Class of 3000: Music Volume One

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, Rock music, Electronic music, Rhythm and blues

    André Lauren Benjamin (born May 27, 1975), better known by his stage name André 3000 (formerly... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button
  • 8
    The Notorious B.I.G. is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    11,481
    4,520

    The Notorious B.I.G.

    Ready to Die, Life After Death

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap, Mafioso rap

    Christopher George Latore Wallace (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997), known professionally as The... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 9
    J. Cole is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    7,688
    2,911

    J. Cole

    Born Sinner, The Warm Up

    Genres (Music)Hip hop

    Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985) is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 10
    MF Doom is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,305
    772

    MF Doom

    Vaudeville Villain, Operation: Doomsday

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Avanthop, Underground hip hop

    Daniel Dumile (born 1971), better known by his stage name MF Doom (stylized in all caps), is a... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 11
    Outkast is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,759
    652

    Outkast

    Stankonia, Aquemini

    Genres (Music)Alternative hip hop, Dance-pop, Jazz, Electronica, Southern hip hop

    Outkast (stylized as OutKast) is an American hip hop duo formed in 1992 in East Point,... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 12
    Ghostface Killah is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    3,051
    1,233

    Ghostface Killah

    Ironman, Supreme Clientele

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap, Contemporary R&B

    Dennis Coles (born May 9, 1970), better known by his stage name Ghostface Killah, is an... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 13
    Method Man is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    4,266
    1,835

    Method Man

    Tical, 4:21... The Day After

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    Clifford M. Smith Jr. (born March 2, 1971), better known by his stage name Method Man, is an... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 14
    N.W.A is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,407
    922

    N.W.A

    Straight Outta Compton, Niggaz4Life

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Political hip hop, Gangsta rap, G-funk, West Coast hip hop

    N.W.A (an abbreviation for Niggaz Wit Attitudes) was an American hip hop group from Compton,... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button
  • 15
    Busta Rhymes is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    3,202
    1,399

    Busta Rhymes

    When Disaster Strikes…, The Big Bang

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Ragga, Dancehall, Hardcore hip hop, Pop music

    Trevor George Smith Jr. (born May 20, 1972), known professionally as Busta Rhymes, is an... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 16
    Royce Da 5'9 is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    3,306
    1,584

    Royce Da 5'9

    Rock City, Street Hop

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, Midwest hip hop, Detroit hip hop

    Ryan Daniel Montgomery (born July 5, 1977), better known by his stage name Royce da 5'9", is... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button
  • 17
    A Tribe Called Quest is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,666
    1,050

    A Tribe Called Quest

    The Low End Theory, Midnight Marauders

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Jazz rap, Alternative hip hop, Rhythm and blues, Alternative rock

    A Tribe Called Quest was an American hip hop collective formed in 1985 and originally composed... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 18
    Raekwon is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,335
    1,040

    Raekwon

    Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Instrumentals, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, East Coast hip hop, Mafioso rap

    Corey Woods (born January 12, 1970), better known by his stage name Raekwon () , is an... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 19
    GZA is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,139
    981

    GZA

    Liquid Swords, Grandmasters

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop

    Gary E. Grice (born August 22, 1966), better known by his stage names GZA ( JIZ-ə) and The... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 20
    Black Thought is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,033
    921

    Black Thought

    Book of Judges

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music

    Tariq Luqmaan Trotter (born October 3, 1971), better known as Black Thought, is an American... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button
  • 21
    Redman is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,610
    1,286

    Redman

    Muddy Waters, Whut? Thee Album

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music

    Reginald Noble (born April 17, 1970), better known by his stage name Redman, is an American... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 22
    Big L is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    4,788
    2,405

    Big L

    The Big Picture, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Horrorcore, Hardcore hip hop, Gangsta rap, Underground hip hop

    Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), known professionally as Big L, was an... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button
  • 23
    DMX is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    2,646
    1,302

    DMX

    It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, Flesh of My Flesh

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Horrorcore, Hardcore hip hop, Christian hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    Earl Simmons (born December 18, 1970), known professionally as DMX, is an American rapper and... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 24
    Ice Cube is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    6,745
    3,415

    Ice Cube

    AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, The Predator

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, Political hip hop, Hardcore hip hop, Gangsta rap

    O'Shea Jackson (born June 15, 1969), known professionally as Ice Cube, is an American rapper,... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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  • 25
    Prodigy is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
    1,160
    465

    Prodigy

    H.N.I.C., Return of the Mac

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap

    Albert Johnson (November 2, 1974 – June 20, 2017), better known by his stage name Prodigy, was... more on Wikipediaamazon buy button

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